Political positions of Ronald Reagan

Political positions of Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan was the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989) and the 33rd Governor of California (1967–1975). He is largely viewed as one of America's most conservative political leaders.

Foreign policy

Cold War

Reagan served as president during the latter part of the Cold War, an era of political and ideological disgareement between the United States and Soviet Union. Reagan labeled the USSR an "Evil Empire" that would be consigned to the "ash heap of history"; he later predicted that communism would collapse.cite news|url=http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-reagan,1,4780792.story?page=6&coll=la-news-obituaries&ctrack=1&cset=true|title=Former President Reagan Dies at 93|work=The Los Angeles Times|date=June 6, 2004 |accessdate= 2007-03-07] He reversed the policy of détente [cite web |url= http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=topics.event_summary&event_id=12594 |title=Towards an International History of the War in Afghanistan, 1979-89 |accessdate=2007-05-16 |year= 2002 |publisher=The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars] and massively built up the United States Military.cite journal|author= Bartels, Larry M.|title=Constituency Opinion and Congressional Policy Making: The Reagan Defense Build Up|journal=The American Political Science Review|year=1991|volume=85|issue=2|pages= 457-474 | doi = 10.2307/1963169 ] Through it, he ordered production the MX "Peacekeeper" missile and implemented the B-1 bomber program that had been canceled by the Carter administration. [cite web |url=http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/icbm/lgm-118.htm |title=LGM-118A Peacekeeper|accessdate=2007-04-10|date=August 15, 2000 |publisher=Federation of American Scientists] He also monitored the deployment of the Pershing II missile in West Germany. [cite web|url=http://www.php.isn.ethz.ch/collections/coll_cmd/introduction.cfm?navinfo=14565|title=Cold War Generals: The Warsaw Pact Committee of Defense Ministers, 1969–90 |author=Nünlist, Christian. |accessdate=2007-04-10 |year=2000–2007 |publisher=Parallel History Project on Cooperative Security]

He proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a defense project that planned to use ground and space-based missile defense systems to protect the United States from attack.cite web|author=Adelman, Ken.|url=http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,91361,00.html|title=SDI:The Next Generation|publisher=Fox News|date=July 8, 2003 |accessdate=2007-03-15] Reagan believed that this defense shield could make nuclear war impossible.cite web |url=http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=ft4q2nb3c4&chunk.id=d0e5097&toc.id=d0e5097&brand=eschol|title=Deploy or Perish: SDI and Domestic Politics|accessdate=2007-04-10|publisher= Scholarship Editions] [Beschloss, Michael (2007), p. 293] Reagan was convinced that the Soviet Union could be defeated rather than simply negotiated with.cite journal|last=Knopf|first=Jeffery W., Ph.D. |date=August 2004|title=Did Reagan Win the Cold War?|journal=Strategic Insights|volume=III|issue=8|publisher=Center for Contemproary Conflict|url=http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/si/2004/aug/knopfAUG04.asp|accessdate=2008-01-06]

Nuclear weapons

According to several scholars and Reagan biographers, including Paul Lettow, John Lewis Gaddis, Richard Reeves, Lou Cannon, and Reagan himself in his autobiography, Ronald Reagan earnestly desired the abolition of all nuclear weapons. He proposed to Gorbachev that if a missile shield could be built, all nuclear weapons be eliminated and the missile shield technology shared, the world would be much better off.

In his autobiography, "An American Life", Reagan wrote, "The Pentagon said at least 150 million American lives would be lost in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union — even if we 'won.' For Americans who survived such a war, I couldn't imagine what life would be like. The planet would be so poisoned the 'survivors' would have no place to live. Even if a nuclear war did not mean the extinction of mankind, it would certainly mean the end of civilization as we knew it. No one could 'win' a nuclear war. Yet as long as nuclear weapons were in existence, there would always be risks they would be used, and once the first nuclear weapon was unleashed, who knew where it would end? My dream, then, became a world free of nuclear weapons.... For the eight years I was president I never let my dream of a nuclear-free world fade from my mind." Reagan wrote that he believed the mutually assured destruction policy formulated by John Kennedy to be morally wrong.

Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty in 1987 (and ratified in 1988), which was the first in Cold War history to mandate the destruction of an entire class of nuclear weapons. [cite web|title=The INF Treaty and the Washington Summit: 20 Years Later|url=http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB238/index.htm|publisher=George Washington University|accessdate=2008-05-08|date=November 10, 2007]

Iran–Iraq War

Originally neutral in the Iran–Iraq War of 1979 to 1988, the Reagan administration began supporting Iraq because an Iraian victory would not serve the interests of the United States. In 1983, Reagan issued a National Security Decision Directive memo, which called for heightened regional military cooperation to defend oil facilities, measures to improve U.S. military capabilities in the Persian Gulf, directed the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take appropriate measures to respond to tensions in the area.cite web|url=http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/|title=Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984|author=Battle, Joyce|accessdate=2008-05-08|date=February 25, 2003|publisher=George Washington University]

Economic policy

Economic plans, taxes, and deficit

Reagan implemented policies based on supply-side economics and advocated a "laissez-faire" philosophy, [Karaagac, John (2000), pp. 113] seeking to stimulate the economy with large, across-the-board tax cuts.Cannon, Lou (2001) p. 99] Appleby, Joyce (2003), pp. 923–924] Reagan pointed to improvements in certain key economic indicators as evidence of success.cite journal|author= Bartels, Larry M.|title=Constituency Opinion and Congressional Policy Making: The Reagan Defense Build Up|journal=The American Political Science Review|year=1991|volume=85|issue=2|pages= 457-474 | doi = 10.2307/1963169 ] The policies proposed that economic growth would occur when marginal tax rates were low enough to spur investment, [cite web |url=http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/SupplySideEconomics.html|title=Supply-Side Economics|author=Gwartney, James D.|Publisher= The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics|accessdate=2007-08-21] which would then lead to increased economic growth, higher employment and wages.

Reagan was ardently opposed to raising income taxes. During his presidential tenure, federal income tax rates were lowered significantly. [cite web |author=Mitchell, Daniel J. Ph.D. |url= http://www.heritage.org/Research/Taxes/BG1086.cfm |title=The Historical Lessons of Lower Tax Rates|publisher=The Heritage Foundation|date = July 19, 1996 |accessdate=2007-05-22]

In order to cover the growing federal budget deficits, the United States borrowed heavily both domestically and abroad, raising the national debt from $700 billion to $3 trillion.Cannon, Lou (2001) p. 128] Reagan described the new debt as the "greatest disappointment" of his presidency.

Free trade

Reagan was a supporter of free trade.cite web|url=http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/reference/pressketch.html|title=The Reagan Presidency|accessdate=2008-05-09|publisher=Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation] When running for president in 1979, Reagan proposed a "North American accord", in which good could more freely throughout Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.cite web|url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Free_Trade.htm|title=Ronald Reagan on free trade|accessdate=2008-05-11|publisher=OnTheIssues.org] Largely dismissed at the time, Reagan was serious in his proposal. Once in office, he signed an agreement with Canada to that effect. His "North American accord" later became the official North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by President George H. W. Bush and ratified by President Bill Clinton.


Reagan was opposed to socialized healthcare, universal health care, or publicly-funded health care. In 1961, while still a member of the Democratic party, Reagan voiced his opposition to single-payer healthcare in an 11-minute recording;See Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine] the idea was beginning to be advocated by the Democratic party. In it, Reagan stated:

"One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It is very easy to describe a medical program as a humanitarian project... Under the Truman administration, it was proposed that we have a compulsory health insurance program for all people in the United States, and of course, the American people unhesitatingly rejected this... In the last decade, 127 million of our citizens, in just ten years, have come under the protection of some privately-owned medical or hospital insurance. The advocates of [socialized healthcare] , when you try to oppose it, challenge you on an emotional basis... What can we do about this? Well you and I can do a great deal. We can write to our Congressmen, to our Senators. We can say right now that we want no further encroachment on these individual liberties and freedoms. And at the moment, the key issue is we do not want socialized medicine... If you don't, this program I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as well have known it in this country, until one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will awake to find that we have socialism. If you don't do this and if I don't do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free." [cite video |people=Operation Coffee Cup Campaign against Socialized Medicine|year2= 1961|title=Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine|url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRdLpem-AAs|format=streaming|medium= political advertisement|publisher=Youtube|accessdate=2008-05-10]

ocial Security

Reagan was in favor of making Social Security benefits voluntary.cite web|url=http://www.issues2000.org/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Social_Security.htm|title=Ronald Reagan on Social Security|accessdate=2008-05-10|publisher=OnTheIssues.org|date=March 27, 2008] According to Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, "I have no doubt that he shared the view that Social Security was a Ponzi scheme. He was intrigued with the idea of a voluntary plan that would have allowed workers to make their own investments. This idea would have undermined the system by depriving Social Security of the contributions of millions of the nation’s highest-paid workers."

ocial policy


Reagan dismissed acid rain and proposals to halt it as burdensome to industry.cite web|url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Ronald_Reagan.htm|title=Ronald Reagan: On the Issues|publisher=OnTheIssues.org|accessdate=2008-05-11] In the early 1980s, pollution had become an issue in Canada; Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau objected to the pollution originating in U.S. factory smokestacks in the midwest.cite web|url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Environment.htm|title=Ronald Reagan on Environment|publisher=OnTheIssues.org|accessdate=2008-05-11] The Environmental Protection Agency implored Reagan to make a major budget commitment to reduce acid rain; Reagan rejected the proposal and deemed it as wasteful government spending. He questioned scientific evidence on the causes of acid rain.

Reagan rarely thought about the environment in political terms, and did not fear that his popularity would be damaged by environmental issues.


Reagan was pro-life, and therefore anti-abortion.cite web|url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Abortion.htm|title=Ronald Reagan on Abortion|accessdate=2008-05-12|publisher=OnTheIssues.org] He was quoted as saying, "If there is a question as to whether there is life or death, the doubt should be resolved in favor of life."

As Governor of California, Reagan signed into law the "Therapeutic Abortion Act", in an effort to reduce the number of "back room abortions" performed in California.Cannon, Lou (2001), p. 50] As a result, approximately one million abortions would be performed; Reagan blamed this on doctors, arguing that they had deliberately misinterpreted the law. At the time that the law was signed, Reagan had been in office for merely four months, and stated that had he been more experienced as governor he would not have signed it. [Cannon, Lou (2001), p. 51] He then declared himself to be pro-life.

Reagan managed to gain the support of pro-life groups when running for president, despite his authorization of the "Therapeutic Abortion Act", by advocating a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited all abortions except when necessary to save the life of the mother. He saw "abortion on demand" as emotionally harmful.

Crime and capital punishment

Reagan was a supporter of capital punishment. As California's Governor, Reagan was beseeched to grant executive clemency to Aaron Mitchell, who had been sentenced to death for the murder of a Sacramento police officer, but did not.cite web|url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Crime.htm|publisher=OnTheIssues.org|accessdate=2008-05-12|title=Ronald Reagan on Crime] Mitchell was executed the following morning. It was the only execution during his eight years as governor; he had previously granted executive clemency to one man on death row who had a history of brain damage.

He approved the construction of three new prisons as president in 1982, as recommended by Attorney General William French Smith.


Reagan was serious when it came to his opposition to illegal drugs.cite web|url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Drugs.htm|title=Ronald Reagan on Drugs|accessdate=2008-05-14|publisher=OnTheIssues.org] He and his wife sought to reduce the scourage of drugs through the Just Say No Drug Awareness campaign, an organization Nancy Reagan founded as first lady. In a 1986 address to the nation by Ronald and Nancy Reagan, the president said, " [W] hile drug and alcohol abuse cuts across all generations, it's especially damaging to the young people on whom our future depends... Drugs are menacing our society. They're threatening our values and undercutting our institutions. They're killing our children."cite web|url=http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1986/091486a.htm|title=Address to the Nation on the Campaign Against Drug Abuse|date=September 14, 1986|accessdate=2008-05-14|publisher=Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation] But Reagan also cracked down on illegal drugs outside of Just Say No; the FBI added five hundred drug enforcement agents, began record drug-crack downs nationwide, and established thirteen regional anti-drug task forces under Reagan. In the address with the first lady, President Reagan reported on the progress of his administration, saying,

"Thirty-seven Federal agencies are working together in a vigorous national effort, and by next year our spending for drug law enforcement will have more than tripled from its 1981 levels. We have increased seizures of illegal drugs. Shortages of marijuana are now being reported. Last year alone over 10,000 drug criminals were convicted and nearly $250 million of their assets were seized by the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration. And in the most important area, individual use, we see progress. In 4 years the number of high school seniors using marijuana on a daily basis has dropped from 1 in 14 to 1 in 20. The U.S. military has cut the use of illegal drugs among its personnel by 67 percent since 1980. These are a measure of our commitment and emerging signs that we can defeat this enemy."

Civil rights


While running for president, Reagan pledged that if given the chance, he would appoint a woman to the Supreme Court of the United States. [Reagan, Ronald (1990), p. 280] In 1981, he did just that with his nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor, who was confirmed by the Senate.


Reagan did not support federal initiatives to provide blacks with civil rights. He opposed the 1965 Civil Rights Act, supported by Martin Luther King, Jr., among others, and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.cite web|url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Civil_Rights.htm|title=Ronald Reagan on Civil Rights|publisher=OnTheIssues.org|accessdate=2008-05-14] His opposition to this was based on his view that the federal government should not overtly provide for people.

But he did not consider himself a racist, and dismissed any attacks aimed at him relating to racism as attacks on his personal character and integrity. In the late 1920s, Reagan was unusual in his opposition to racial discrimination. In Dixon, Illinois, the local inn would not allow black people to stay the night. Reagan brought them back to his house, where his mother invited them to sleep and have breakfast the next morning. [Kengor, Paul (2004), p. 15]


chool prayer

Reagan was a supporter of prayer in U.S. schools.cite web|url=http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=39565|title=Ronald Reagan: Radio Address to the Nation on Prayer in Schools|date=February 25, 1984|accessdate=2008-05-10|publisher=The American Presidency Project]

On February 25, 1984, in his weekly radio address, he said, "Sometimes I can't help but feel the first amendment is being turned on its head. Because ask yourselves: Can it really be true that the first amendment can permit Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen to march on public property, advocate the extermination of people of the Jewish faith and the subjugation of blacks, while the same amendment forbids our children from saying a prayer in school?"

While President, Reagan did not pursue a Constitutional amendment requiring school prayer in public schools. [cite news|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE3DB173BF932A2575AC0A96E948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all|title=The Nation; Reagan's Social Issues: Gone but Not Forgotten|work=The New York Times|accessdate=2008-05-10|author=Roberts, Steven V.|date=September 11, 1988]

Department of Education

Reagan was particularly opposed to the establishment of the Department of Education, which had occurred under his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. This view stemmed from his less-government intervention views.cite web|url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Education.htm|title=Ronald Reagan on Education|accessdate=2008-05-15|publisher=OnTheIssues.org] He had pledged to abolish the department, but did not pursue that goal as president.

Energy and oil

As president, Reagan removed controls on oil prices, resulting in lower prices and an oil glut.cite web|url=http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Energy_+_Oil.htm|title=Ronald Reagan on Energy & Oil|accessdate=2008-05-15|publisher=OnTheIssues.org] He did not reduce U.S. dependency on oil by imposing an oil-importing fee because of his opposition to taxation. He trusted the free marketplace.


References and futher reading

*cite book|last=Appleby|first=Joyce|coauthors=Alan Brinkley, James M. McPherson|title=The American Journey|publisher=Glencoe/McGraw-Hill|date=2003|location=Woodland Hills, California|id = 0078241294
*cite book|last=Bennett|first=James|year=1987|title=Control of Information in the United States|location=Westport, Connecticut|publisher=Meckler Corporation
*cite book|last=Beschloss|first=Michael|title=Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How they Changed America 1789–1989|year=2007|publisher=Simon & Schuster
*cite book|last=Cannon|first=Lou|authorlink=Lou Cannon|title=President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime|year=2000|publisher=Public Affairs|location=New York|isbn=1891620916
*cite book|title=Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio: A History Illustrated from the Collection of the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum|first=Lou|last =Cannon|authorlink=Lou Cannon|coauthors=Michael Beschloss|publisher=PublicAffairs|isbn=1891620843|year=2001
*cite book|last=Conason|first=Joe|title=Big Lies| year=2003 | publisher=Thomas Dunne Books | location=New York | isbn=978-0312315610
*cite book|last=Fischer|first= Klaus|title=America in White, Black, and Gray: The Stormy 1960s|year= 2006|publisher= Continuum|location=London
*cite book|last=Gaddis|first=John Lewis|title=The Cold War: A New History|year= 2005|publisher=The Penguin Press
*cite book|last=Reagan|first= Ronald|title=An American Life|year= 1990|publisher= Simon & Schuster|location=New York|isbn=0743400259
*cite book|last=Reeves|first=Richard|authorlink=Richard Reeves|title=President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination|year=2005|publisher=Simon & Schuster|location=New York|isbn=0743230221

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